Hugo Barra was the face of Android for the last several years. If Google needed someone out front for a demo, it was going to be Barra. He was personable and effective on stage, but he announced a few weeks ago that he was leaving Mountain View for Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi where he will serve as VP of global. It seemed abrupt, but Barra has revealed in an interview with All Things D that the move was in the works for some time.


Barra began talking with Xiaomi over a year ago, right after the original Nexus 7 was announced. The company's president, Bin Lin is a former Googler who Barra met when he started at Google in 2008. In fact, Xiaomi was formed largely by former Google engineers in China. Barra was open with Google about the move when talks heated up a few months ago. While Google management was sad to lose Barra, having an insider at the top of an important Chinese manufacturer is not a bad thing. It doesn't get much attention in the west, but Xiaomi is often called the Apple of China. It sells millions of phones and gets high marks from reviewers.

This is all part of the appeal of working at Xiaomi, according to Barra. Xiaomi is on the way up, and it's exciting to be part of that. Barra believes his new employer could have as significant an impact on the future of mobile as Google itself. Xiaomi is a company that prides itself on quickly making high-power devices that are inexpensive. It's an equation that works well in China, but Barra believes many other Asian markets could be perfect for Xiaomi – developing these markets is Barra's main responsibility at the company.


The Xiaomi Mi3

As for the US market, Barra didn't have much concrete to say. He knows Xiaomi needs to have a presence in western markets, but that might require a new kind of product. Barra will start at Xiaomi in October, though he did join CEO Lei Jun on stage recently at the announcement of the Mi3 smartphone. For now, Barra is planning his move to Beijing and trying to get the hang of Chinese.

[All Things D]

Ryan Whitwam
Ryan is a tech/science writer, skeptic, lover of all things electronic, and Android fan. In his spare time he reads golden-age sci-fi and sleeps, but rarely at the same time. His wife tolerates him as few would.

He's the author of a sci-fi novel called The Crooked City, which is available on Amazon and Google Play.

  • chriscarver


  • Stephen S Gibson

    MIUI is awesome, if it were all in english that would be even better. Visually it's a step up from stock android and iOS in my opinion.

    • http://riteshtripathy.wordpress.com/ Ritesh

      Its really not. While it works well and looks peppy, its a iOS wannabe for my tastes. Their hardware on the other hand, is pretty fantastic.

      • PhoenixPath

        That white interfacing and missing app drawer really pulled the wool over your eyes, didn't it?

        Good thing it could be changed with the tap of an icon...

        It still amazes me how few people could get past that. It can look and act almost exactly like Android 2.x ...if you want it to...with the tap of an icon.

        Last I checked, that was something quite a bit *other* than "iOS wannabe".

        • http://riteshtripathy.wordpress.com/ Ritesh

          Being a seasoned Android enthusiast since the Eclair days, they'd have to do a LOT more than that to pull the wool over my eyes. Stop assuming things. I'm not talking what CAN be done, I'm talking about how they present it as default. The status bar, icons, menu pages etc cry out "wannabe iOS" at every turn. I hate the look and feel of iOS and that's why never could warm up to the look & feel of MIUI. Its personal preference, that's all. They do have some nifty features baked in and the ROM is pretty nice, I cannot disagree with that.

          • PhoenixPath

            "I hate the look and feel of iOS and that's why never could warm up to the look & feel of MIUI."

            Saying you couldn't get past a default theme of arguably the most them-able Android fork in existence sounds exactly like what I described in my post. You let your initial perception, tied with an apparent hatred of "anything iOS", get the better of you.

            ...and thus you are left with a *very* limited understanding of the product as a whole.

            Don't get me wrong...disliking the initial encounter enough to never use it again is a valid response. Tell it like it is: You couldn't get over the initial default theme...and thus didn't use it enough to make an honest assessment.

            As kind of a disclaimer: My last experience with MIUI was back in the GB days on my Samsung Fascinate. Loved it. Blew anything Samsung/VZW could put ont it away. Tried using it afterwards on my Nexus and felt they just never caught up with the speed and functionality of the GB version after having to start over from scratch with ICS. Have yet to try it on my HTC One, and as such have not made any comment on it's current state.

            (The fascinate was MIUI, with an actual iOS theme, running a "Zune" clone media player. Android, iOS, Zune...that thing had some serious identity issues.) :-D

          • Greyhame

            Dude, PP, you're f'ing ridiculous. Stop fooling yourself into thinking that you can figure out what other people are thinking. You can't. And it's annoying as hell.

          • PhoenixPath

            Seriously, grey?

            Tell what he's thinking...

            See the quotes? Those are things he actually typed I am responding to. If you think he meant something other than what he typed, well...there's not a dang thing I can do about that.

            If you think my posts are ridiculous, don't read them. Easy-peasy, k?

          • Greyhame

            Alright, so I went a bit overboard. My apologies.

            But it's not what you're quoting, it's how you're interpreting what they said in those quotes. You're just way off base. You take things to an extreme that almost purposely obfuscates what the OP intended. You assume too much. In this case, you actually assumed a guy who was a beta tester for the ROM in question hadn't a clue about it, simply because he said he disliked it because it resembled iOS. See what I'm getting at?

          • PhoenixPath

            I do, but I honestly don't see that I am making the leaps you seem to think I am. He's a beta tester for MIUI?? I'd have known that how?

            The guys says he doesn't like it because of how it looks....


            It's the most them-able ROM in the frigging world. How it looks is the most user-definable thing about it. No...not even a beta-tester gets a pass for making a statement like that.

            If he has other issues with it, fine...but looks? Pfft....not buying it. (Thankfully, it's free!)

            (thanks for the civil response by the way. We can all get along, even if we think the other guy is being f'ing ridiculous.) :-D

            I don't know man...maybe I'm biased. I loved MIUI back in GB days...it was amazing sh*t. But come on...how it looks? Really? Am I really that far off??

          • ari_free

            "Stop fooling yourself into thinking that you can figure out what other people are thinking."

            Yeah, I stopped trying to do that once I realized that most people simply don't think. :)

          • PhoenixPath


            I laughed, but...ouch.

          • ari_free

            What you can do with miui themes is simply amazing. i kinda laugh at themes for other roms and launchers. They just offer a few tweaks here and there.

          • PhoenixPath

            xposed looks like it might have some promise for "other roms"...but it's a bit "crashy" when doing certain things...

            Actually really digging Sense now....just orange instead of blue. Go figure, right? :P

          • http://riteshtripathy.wordpress.com/ Ritesh

            Dude.. you are something, aren't you? Where, exactly, did I say that I couldn't get past the default theme? I was talking about how they present MIUI, not what CAN be done to it later. Are your comprehension skills that poor?
            And THEN, you tell me that you tried it back in the Gingerbread days.. *smh*
            I tried it last at 4.1 JB and it offered me nothing over the likes of PA or CM. Unless you wanted the "iOS" look & feel, there was nothing compelling about MIUI. Get the point?
            Why would I use MIUI and then make it look like AOSP? I didn't like a single MIUI theme 100%. Every theme had something missing or some weird bug or some graphical glitch. I tried it on my olg GNex and the One X I had at the time. Why is it so hard for you to understand that someone didn't like the direction a particular ROM developer was taking?
            I actually was a part of the MIUI internal testing group on XDA. My "*very* limited understanding of the product as a whole" surely helped them iron a few bugs!

          • PhoenixPath


            Where, exactly, did I say that I couldn't get past the default theme?

            "I hate the look and feel of iOS and that's why never could warm up to the look & feel of MIUI."

            The default theme....

            Criticizing the most them-able Android install available based on how it looks OOB is about as lame a criticism as there is.

            "And THEN, you tell me that you tried it back in the Gingerbread days.."

            ...and ICS...and JB. Crucify me for giving some background into my usage.

            " Unless you wanted the "iOS" look & feel, there was nothing compelling about MIUI."

            BS. You said so yourself: "They do have some nifty features baked in and the ROM is pretty nice"

            People just thick around here today?

          • http://riteshtripathy.wordpress.com/ Ritesh

            I didn't warm up to the default look means I could not and did not get past the default theme? In which deluded world?

            "My last experience with MIUI was back in the GB days on my Samsung Fascinate" - that, to any sane person means that the LAST time you tried it was back in the GB days. Then you add in your response - ..and ICS ...and JB ??? Make up your fucking mind!

            I said some nifty features baked in like backup services, their own cloud storage etc. Those are NOT compelling features to me. So that is BS? What is wrong with you? You're one of those annoying pricks who like to put words in people's mouths and then pick an argument based on your own arsed up comprehension and assumption.

            And I know there are hundreds of themes which look like anything you want. But, did you read the part where I said every theme has some bug or another? It was never 100%. Anyway, I didn't like that shit, so I said it. Why are you so diligently trying to argue with my personal choice with assumptions out of thin air ?

          • PhoenixPath

            Read my post about my usage again. I posted the info about the fascinate and then mentioned it on my gnex.

            The GNex shipped with ICS.

            Reading is fundamental...

            Sorry you couldn't get any MIUI themes to work. Reading your original response makes it seem like this is MIUIs fault, not some device or compatibility issue.

            But no..."It really isn't."

            ... because your experience is is the only one that counts.

            Whatever... MIUI can be gorgeous or horrible looking depending on the themes and combinations; regardless of any beta tester's personal experiences.

            So long and thanks for the discussion... It's been a real treat.

          • ari_free

            "I didn't like a single MIUI theme 100%."

            So make your own theme.

          • http://riteshtripathy.wordpress.com/ Ritesh

            I'm not a themer. And that's my choice. That doesn't mean I can't say I didn't like something. Jeez!!

          • Chris

            o0o0o00o Eclair days? Get with us pre-cupcake boyz. Android didn't even have version names when I hopped on!

      • karthik nayak

        "in my opinion"

  • Majeed Belle

    The Mi3 looked like some pretty amazing hardward and it had the specs to book. Google could make me very happy by getting stock Android on that baby.

    • Thomas Gladdines

      All xiaomi phones have official aosp roms available too ;)
      So you can choose which one you like :D

      • http://trapchan.blogspot.com trapchan

        That would defeat the purpose of having a Xiaomi device. Still a choice is a choice ... and a good choice is always good.

        • Bloodflame87

          Defeat the purpose? Since when is having choice defeating the purpose? Xiaomi makes great phones, and they're available at great prices. I'd actually be pretty happy to get my hands on a Mi3.

          Think of it this way... Nexus + Oppo + China = Xiaomi. There's no way to lose here.

          I believe Barra is a huge asset to the company, and he do a terrific job guiding them towards their goals. Hopefully those goals eventually include North American expansion. Maybe in time for the Mi4 next year. Or maybe Mi6 at the latest. C'mon, who doesn't want a Bond phone?!

          • http://trapchan.blogspot.com trapchan

            Dude, there are only 2 reasons people bought Xiaomi devices:
            1. Cheap
            2. MIUI

            Slap vanilla Android, and you will remove reason no.2 (no MIUI, no unique MIUI features, no Mi-services), and since Nexus device most likely priced as cheap if not cheaper than Xiaomi device (in US at least) and based on Nexus 4, most people would agree that it had better build quality. So, there's no reason to choose a Xiaomi over Nexus.

            Therefore having vanilla Android on Xiaomi would defeat the purpose of having Xiaomi device itself.

  • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

    I'll believe it when I see a Xiaomi phone on display in a US carrier store. Five bucks says this honeymoon ends well before that "few years."

    • gargi

      Agreed. My guess is that his move is all about the $$$, cashing-in on his current high-profile status. (pls don't get me wrong, it's not a negative comment).

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      Just $5 this time? How about a Marmelade Cake in the face?

  • Justin W

    I'm interested to see how their devices as they stand would perform in the US market. They seem like solid devices, and they are on-pace with the tech we have available now. Worst-case, they wouldn't sell as many as they were expecting and can start a new flagship design for the Americas region.

  • Willie D

    What I see this as is another Nokia-Microsoft transaction. Have a few Google employees found and create a new company, build it into something great and decent, have some insider information, pump out a few Nexus devices using them, and then buy them out and have Motorola and Xiaomi as your device manufactures under one parent company. Effectively the same thing that Microsoft did with Nokia.

    • RenatoFontesTapia

      The situation here is VERY different.

    • RenatoFontesTapia

      Ballmer wasn't boinking Elop's ex-girlfriend...

    • ari_free

      "build it into something great and decent,"
      versus bring it to the ground, which is what Elop did to Nokia.

    • http://riteshtripathy.wordpress.com/ Ritesh

      Its far from that. Nokia wasn't an up and coming company. Elop went there and made obvious decisions that would make Nokia pretty much a Microsoft subsidiary. He wouldn't immediately have killed MeeGo otherwise. That platform had a lot of potential and promise. Hugo's move to Xiaomi is nothing like Elop's move to Nokia.

    • squiddy20

      "Have a few Google employees found and create a new company, build it into something great and decent,"

      Ummm... except for the fact that Xiaomi is an already well established, not to mention "great and decent" company? Did you not read from the article "It doesn't get much attention in the west, but Xiaomi is often called the Apple of China"?

  • Cherokee4Life

    They way I look at it is.. A top Googler is leaving an good terms to join another phone manufacturer to bring them up in the "world". No bad news here in my opinion. more Android influence around the world = good news!

    • http://riteshtripathy.wordpress.com/ Ritesh

      Thanks for the sense. People just want to litter popcorn on each and every thing for amusement sake. "oh his boss is boinking his ex.." "oh he's the trojan horse ala Elop.." etc. Like everything HAS to have a conspiracy theory of some kind behind it.

      • Cherokee4Life

        well people like gossip.. and for tech enthusiasts that equates to conspiracy theories as to why certain people leave companies. Now there are some times when there are facts that make it seem shady. But from what I have read and seen Hugo is a good guy and is not leaving to make a truck load of cash but to do what he loves and to help another company. (now he might get a truck load of cash anyways).
        The more competition in the smartphone market the better.

  • ari_free

    MIUI looks cool but lots of stuff looks straight out of ios, such as bounce back. Android UI was designed to avoid these patent pitfalls and Hugo will have a tough time going global in areas where Apple's patents are binding.

  • ari_free

    By the way, miUI is pronounced "me U I"
    Certainly not "my you-ee" :)

    • PhoenixPath

      I pronounce it Mee-Wee and I'll stop pronouncing it that way when I am dead, thankyouverymuch.

      • ari_free

        Fair enough Pee-nix Path :)

        • PhoenixPath

          I can see why it's free, Ari. No-one would buy it. ;-)

          *bah-dun tiss*

          Yeah, that was bad...sorry....it's been a long day.

          • ari_free

            Free as in freedom, not free beer. I used that name after mozilla went open source

          • PhoenixPath


            *shudders uncontrollably*

            I'm sorry, what were we talking about?

          • ari_free

            You don't remember but Firefox used to be called phoenix :)


          • PhoenixPath

            I had forgotten that, indeed. Now I have one more useless fact to amaze people with. :-D

  • http://www.geekchoice.com/washington-dc Dagmar Schneitz

    That's dedication to move to Beijing! I hear the Chinese are among the ones who have the least favorable opinion of Americans, so good luck and God speed!

    • John Smith

      Not to mention the ridiculous pollution problems going on over there

    • Rodrigo

      Hugo Barra is Brazilian

    • darkNiGHTS

      Really? Chinese people don't mind Americans, not sure where you heard that. Went to China earlier this year and while a lot of people are rude (everyone is rude to everyone by western standards), many people were very welcoming and friendly.

    • dandmcd

      Are you serious, Americans are loved in China, they are considered honest, respectful, outgoing, and very attractive. I live in China, and everyone treats me well, and my friends have never heard anyone talk behind our backs about foreigners.

      It's Japanese, Africans and North Korea the Chinese most dislike. The rest of the world is cool in their books.

  • 72goojman72

    I'd definitely buy one if it came to my carrier!

  • Niks

    Great ... Barra do look at INDIA as one of the biggest market....
    i Have used MIUI rom on my xperia and i just loved it.... its too good.... best rom i ever used (out of 5-6)

  • Mystery Man

    Havent used miui since my sensation. Loved it though except for poor battery life

  • senor_heisenberg

    If they do bring their devices to the west, they're gonna have to make some big changes to that iOS looking default MIUI skin. I know there are themes, but that's the default look, and Apple would not lose a single case.

    • ari_free

      They'll just have to learn the hard way, like Samsung did when it changed Android to look more like ios

    • Chris

      I don't think Apple would stand a chance in court for a theme case. It's not new technology, and the property isn't owned by a single entity... If that's the case, Apple would be infringing on several ThemeChooser themes inside the Google Play Store. Plus, MIUI has been around much longer than iOS 7.

      Then again, it's Apple... They sued for rounded corners.

      • mauswe

        Well does not MIUI look like iOS very much?

  • Danny Davis

    Can't get over how much this resembles the Lumia 920. I love MIUI. I remember updating all the time when it first appeared and putting it on my Nexus One. I did always have the close iOS resemblence, however. But it was a great UI. Hopefully they get the software up to speed to play with 4.3 and soon Kit Kat. Xiaomi and OPPO are underrated brands.

  • http://www.Mikereviews.co.uk/ Mike Brown

    I wouldn't say no to a Xiaomi Nexus device.

  • didibus

    What's better, Meizu or Xiaomi ?

  • Asphyx

    I'm going to say he hasn't really thought this out well enough...
    Sure he probably has a higher position there than he had at Google but the truth is he has a Job that is going to be hard to succeed in because there are not many other countries who are going to want to buy Chinese made and designed smartphones considering the risk of potential spying involved.

    • gtg465x

      All of our "American" smartphones are made in China. It's unlikely, but possible that they're already sneaking in back doors during manufacturing.

      • Asphyx

        Yes but they are not designed there which leaves the hope that the American Companies that send designs there to be made are at least checking the product returned to make sure the design is not altered at all...

        That said they are probably checking just to make sure the NSA bits are not being changed to send data to the Chinese as well! LOL

  • Dean Politis

    Is it just me, but isn't calling Xiaomi the "Apple of China" insulting? We don't call HTC the "Apple of Taiwan" or Samsung the "Motorola of South Korea".

    • Pengwn

      It was a comparison to how well known Apple is in the states. Xiaomi is just as well known of a company, but in China.

      • Dean Politis

        It is still insulting

    • gtg465x

      That's because Samsung is the Apple of South Korea, not the Motorola, duh..

    • Simon Liu

      Apple is the apple of China. Chinese people love showing off. People will buy an iPhone just to look good even if it means they can't afford to eat.

  • spydie

    good move Google.... having a double-agent on the inside will have big payoffs

  • Clayton Ginther

    how do you pronounce Xiaomi?

    • http://hqraja.com/ Haroon Q. Raja

      zee-aa-ow-me, I suppose. Not certain.

  • james

    Xiaomi and MIUI are amazing products. I am happy for him.

  • MotoNeXus

    Wasn't this actually because Barra was having a problem with a relationship with someone at Google or something like that?